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Sippin’ The ‘Gnac

“Each year, Cognac makes its mark with enthusiasm, style and confidence, and it’s wonderful to be taking part in this year’s edition.”
Jonathan Demme

Eighteen floors above street-level. Someone hands me a cocktail. I drink it. Then another. I don’t know what’s inside, but I drink it anyway. I hear music… syncopated beats aligned sonically with displaced dub. I see people… beautiful, elegant, hip to the groove. Out the corner of my eye, I think I spot a black Napoleon, with a multicultural harem of Josephines. I try to make sense of it all. Eighteen floors above street-level. This is not good…

I insisted on coming tonight, even brought along a friend of mine – a spunky Asian girl from Hong Kong named Loi Wing. But when the elevator doors opened and we stepped into the bar area, she vanished. No matter, I think to myself. I’ll have a drink and we’ll find our way back to one another. Strolling toward the bar, I notice a cool, yellow ripple to the bartender’s right; a batch of ready-made cocktails, waiting to be consumed. The bartender smiles, informs me those are the only drinks available tonight, and winks. Strange…

Grabbing the closest glass and taking a sip, I’m intrigued. Interesting taste, sharp with a hint of citrus, but not too acidic. I drink some more. The glass is small, and in a matter of minutes, I’ve emptied it. I’m drawn back to the bar and before I know it, I’m finishing up a second glass. I start to feel like a cross between Bruce Banner and Reed Richards, craving more to drink but knowing it will severely change my behaviour. I still don’t know what I’m drinking, the effects it’s having on my body, or who all these people are…

Beautiful people. I’m surrounded by them, in their bow ties, their stiletto heels, their faux-vintage cardigan sweaters, and their $200 fancy sneakers. Their conversations are dizzying, and I hear snippets from around the room flooding my ears:

“One sec, I have to post this to my Twitter…”
“What’s the name of that rapper who sings about Courvoisier?”
“Yeah… My blog gets about 700 hits a day… Hey, you want to get a drink somewhere after this?”
“Don’t they drink Sidecars on Mad Men? What do you mean you don’t know… ?”

I need some fresh air, and stumble toward a balcony door. Outside, I make the mistake of looking down onto the street below me. Eighteen floors above street level. Jesus Christ. I taste my stomach in the back of my throat. Hearing music inside, I peer through the windows and see bodies begin to tangle into one another, moving rhythmically. Except the beautiful people seem to have been replaced by the Great Emperor Napoleon, and a gaggle of girls grabbing at him. Napoleon is black, the girls are dark-skinned, light-skinned, Asian, all colours. There’s a man on stilts. What the hell is happening? What is in these drinks?

Before I guess at an answer, I’m plopped down at a table. Sitting surrounded by strangers, we stare at each other blankly, and then at the abundance of colours, textures, and flavours spread in front of us. Brown sugar, white sugar, raw sugar, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cayenne pepper, rosemary, mint, ginger, lemons, limes, blueberries, cherries, juices, sodas, and more. But once again, there is little time to make sense of the situation. I feel the effects of the drinks starting to wear off, and begin hoping for a return to some sense of normalcy and logic, when a series of vials are thrust under my nose, one after another. With the seemingly innocuous scents of maple, iris, and – most devious of all – ginger cookies, wafting through my nostrils and into my system, I’m overcome by sensation once again. Blinded to everything around me, I feel defeated by the urge to try more… taste more… experience more…

Let loose, I’m suddenly mixing ingredients in a frenzy. Flashes of Fantasia flicker in my mind as I create one unholy concoction after another. My hands have a mind of their own, and I feel like Being John Malkovich as I watch myself uncontrollably fall under the stupefying spell of this powerful beverage. Addicted to the feeling, I mix together Courvoisier, cherries, cinnamon, and cayenne pepper. Too many ingredients with the letter C, I think to myself. Scared, I add a dash of lemon juice. Before I’m done tasting, I’ve already moved on to my next experiment. Courvoisier and cucumber. Again, too many C ingredients. I’m even more scared now. This is not just a coincidence. Coincidence, I think to myself… Also starts with a C. Now, I panic. Are they controlling my mind? Is that why everything here tastes so good? Is that why I had imbibed so much more than I ever would have under normal circumstances? Is that why I couldn’t think straight? “WHAT HAVE YOU PEOPLE DONE TO ME!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. Everything stopped. The room grew silent. Uh oh, I thought… They’re on to me.

I calculated my dashing factor. If I ran top speed, I estimated being in the stairwell and on my way to freedom in under ten seconds. Would that be enough time? And what of the complimentary gift bags I noticed by the door? No, no time for that now. Must concentrate. With beads of sweat forming across my forehead, I surveyed the room. There was a small commotion at another one of the tables. Had someone else realized what was being done? Were they being subdued? My heart raced.

“Alright! We have a winner for the best mixed drink!”

A voice. Whose voice? God? I don’t know. Applause. Cheering. What’s happening? All the beautiful people are standing up, looking toward the small commotion. Glasses are raised. People are drinking more. Don’t they understand what this is doing to them? The music begins again. Beats. I’m disoriented. Loi Wing saunters up to me, and I am relieved to see she is OK. I try to ask where she’s been and what they’ve done to her, but she smiles wider than ever and drags me by the arm, back outside to the balcony.

The fresh air invigorates me, and I begin to feel sober at last. I revisit what I just experienced: the dizzying excitement, the blurry exhilaration, the energizing crowd. Loi Wing asks if I want something more to drink. “Oh hell yeah,” I reply, before losing myself again in a glass of Courvosier Exclusif.

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You Give Love (and PR) A Bad Name

If you haven’t already heard, cheating is not the reason marriages break up. No, the real reason behind many a divorce is a force much more sinister than extramarital sexual urges… that’s right, I’m talking about Rogers Communications.

 Rogers Logos

Yes, it’s not enough that they gouge us on service fees and spray-paint our sidewalks (really? didn’t you learn from MLSE eight months ago?), now they’re coming into our homes and breaking up our marriages. Imagine coming home one night after a long, hard day at work, and you walk into your bedroom only to find your wife in bed with all of Rogers Communications. If that sort of thing turns you on, you’re probably on the wrong website.

If you haven’t already heard, Gabriela Nagy “blames a Rogers cellphone bill for breaking up her marriage… Nagy claims a unilateral decision by Rogers to consolidate her household’s bills allowed her husband to discover she was having an affair. That, she says, led to the “destruction” of her marriage.”

 Gabriela Nagy

Here’s a thought: Maybe the marriage was already destroyed when Nagy decided and proceeded to have an affair, and not when the husband found out about it. I’m pretty sure that the old adage “It’s not illegal unless you’re caught” doesn’t hold up in a court of law.

Now, Nagy “is launching a campaign to improve privacy protection in Ontario… [and] looking for other frustrated customers to join her lawsuit against the telecommunications giant for what she claims was a breach of her privacy.”

Is she? Is she really? Or is there more to this already-ridiculous story? Well, when a story in Toronto transcends being ridiculous and begins bordering on being offensive, there’s always a safe guess as to why: J.P. Pampena.

 JP Pampena

First off, let me say that this entire story stinks. Reeks. It’s a wonder Pampena can come near it, what with his heightened sense of smell. But then again, this is the same publicist who orchestrated the messy soap opera that surrounded Toronto’s baby Kaylee case in 2009 and 2010.

 Jay Sherman

In reading up on Nagy’s case, it seems abundantly clear that Pampena is behind much of this media-attention-grabbing circus:

  • Nagy showing up for interviews dressed all in black, wearing a wig and dark glasses
  • Suing Rogers for $600,000 (is that all your marriage was worth to you?)
  • Launching a Facebook campaign dubbed Citizens Helping Individuals Reform Privacy Policies (CHIRPP)
  • Mentioning she has switched to Bell and is much happier with their privacy protections

 This has sleaze written all over it, and it’s a goddamn shame. It’s a shame that this woman is attempting to profit from her own immorality, while trying to paint a sympathetic picture of herself (though acknowledging herself she won’t win many sympathy points). It’s a shame that Rogers – giant, evil corporation that they are – has to deal with this bullshit, likely meaning that somewhere down the line, us “regular” customers will have to pay some sort of price for all this. And it’s a real shame that J.P. Pampena is giving publicists and public relations practitioners everywhere a terrible name.

It should be noted that Pampena is also the same publicist that infiltrated the Molson Canadian Rocks SARS Toronto Benefit Concert, doing media interviews and taking credit for an event he had little – if nothing – to do with. He’s drawn the ire of well-respected PR practitioners all over Toronto, and with good reason. He was even called out (albeit anonymously) on Inside PR, a leading Canadian podcast on the state and future of public relations, by then-hosts Terry Fallis, Dave Jones, and Martin Waxman.

Interestingly, Inside PR has also been the basis of discussions on why publicists should not be a part of any story, unless extenuating circumstances call for it. Obviously, Pampena missed that episode. Wonder why….

(Another interesting note on Pampena – who, by the way, is also registered to run for Mayor of Toronto in the 2010 election – is that though he claims to be blind (26 years and counting…), his Twitter page has him spotting a celebrity in Pearson Airport.

The Nine Stages Of Job-Hunting and Soulmate Searching (part i)

The Nine Stages Of Job-Hunting and Soulmate Searching (part i)

Looking for a job is like looking for a girlfriend. Or boyfriend. Or transsexual friend, if that’s the way you swing. Knowing you, that’s totally the way you swing. But I digress.

Looking for a job is like looking for a girlfriend. There are stages which one goes through when job-hunting that are eerily similar to those experienced when searching soulmates. This is something of a recent discovery for me, as I went through the dizzying highs, terrifying lows, and creamy middles, of applying for a dream job.

First, a quick aside. When I say “dream job,” it should be pretty clear I’m not applying to become the first-line center for the Toronto Maple Leafs (hardly a dream job at this juncture in time), nor am I applying to become the fourth Beastie Boy. I’m talking more in the realm of realistic and obtainable jobs, marrying professional and personal interests in a complementary corporate culture at a successful and desirable organization. For some people, this entails working at a bank. For others, it entails working for a beer company. For me, at this particular time in my life, it was the chance to work for Google.

Stage 1: Single

Before stumbling upon the job posting for Google, I was “job-hunting,” to use a dreaded term. Hunting for potential jobs is much like hunting for potential mates. To try and better my chances of employment in my field, I attended conferences and seminars related to my industry. I met people whom I’d followed on Twitter and LinkedIn, and introduced myself to countless others, all in the hopes of meeting someone who would consider calling me in for an interview.

Searching for the perfect boy or girl is much the same. You attend interesting social events in the hopes of meeting a member of the opposite sex to whom you’re attracted. You’ve met people online through Twitter or Facebook, and now approach them nervously in real life, hoping they ask for your number (or Twitter handle) to hang out in the future.


Stage 2: Guarded Optimism

I actually don’t recall how I found out Google was hiring in Toronto, though I’m pretty sure someone tweeted about it. Nevertheless, as soon as I saw the posting, I jumped at the chance. Never thinking it would actually work out, I gathered my courage, updated my resume, and reached out to them. In the back of my head, I quietly expounded upon the possibilities of working for Google. “It’s like playing for the Yankees,” I thought to myself. I was excited, but reserved.


Excited but reserved – the feeling of meeting someone for the first time and sensing an instant attraction. You size her up and quickly determine whether you’d get along with that person and to what degree. Once you’ve decided that she potentially suits you as a mate (or a lover… ooh la la), you get that feeling. You know… that feeling. In the back of your head, you quietly expound upon the possibilities of being with this person: What would it be like to touch them, feel them, taste them…


Stage 3: The First Contact

Google emailed me on a Friday morning to say they’re interested in speaking with me over the phone. I was elated, until realizing I had only received the email that morning, though it had actually been sent one week earlier. I was devastated. A wave of stress crashed over me as I scrambled to reply, hoping that waiting a week didn’t ruin my chances. To make matters worse, I use Gmail… so it was as if Google had cost me a job with Google. After a few days with no response, I emailed them a second time explaining why I had waited a week to reply the first time. They replied within four minutes, letting me know they were still interested, and we set up a time.

Nervous. Elated. Devastated. Relived. That’s your cycle of emotions as you call the girl you really like for the first time. You’re nervous before calling, and elated when the call goes well. Then you go back and replay the conversation in your head, and realize you said something so ridiculous and so stupid, you wouldn’t be surprised if she never called back. Then… a call back. Your potential mate didn’t even realize you had said anything remotely odd, and looks forward to meeting you for a date. Score.


Stage 4: The First Date

My next contact with Google was a phone conversation with an HR recruiter based in Mountain View, CA, home to the Google compound. We spoke casually on the phone for 45 minutes or so, as I walked her through my resume and professional career to that point. I cracked a few jokes but remained slightly guarded. I felt it went well, and she let me know that if I met certain qualifications, I’d be contacted for a second interview. I was nervous but confident.

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You pick a girl up and go for a drink. You’re nervous, but confident. You crack a few jokes, but you don’t take it too far because you don’t want to mess up early on. You speak casually and watch the time, not wanting to drag on too long. You go through each of your lives, discussing past dating disasters. At the end of the night, she thanks you for a lovely time and lets you know she’ll call if she’s interested in seeing you again.


Stage 5: The Second Date


An email from Google… it must be good news. They liked me. They want me to have a phone chat with their Toronto manager. I’m thrilled. We get in touch and talk for an hour. I walk her through my resume; she walks me through her responsibilities. It’s easy-going and comfortable. At the end, she tells me Google will let me know if they’d like to proceed. She seems confident they will. This could be the start of something big.

A phone call from your date the other night… it must be good news. She liked you. She’d like to see you again. You’re thrilled. You get in touch and talk for hours. It’s easy-going and comfortable, much more so than your first phone call. You walk her through your day at work; she walks you through hers. At the end, she tells you she’d like to get together again soon. You seem confident this is the start of something big.


To Be Continued…

Five Professional Advantages To Being Unemployed

Three weeks before my wedding, my position in the PR department of a non-profit arts organization was eliminated. The good news was it meant more time for me to help plan a wedding for more people than I’ll ever know. The bad news, of course, was my unemployment.

I have a hard time believing claims that losing a job is “the best thing to happen to me.” However, there are certainly more advantages to being unemployed than one might consider. Here are five:

  • Re-Evaluate Your Resume
    When I lost my job, I realized my resume hadn’t been updated since I was hired. I spent weeks afterward recalling all my accomplishments at work, and putting them down on paper coherently. I wrote and re-wrote, edited and re-edited. But that wasn’t enough.

    The great thing about being unemployed is that you can freely pass your resume around for scrutiny. Sure, you can re-write a resume until the cows come home (farmers have resumes?) but why not share the wealth? Reach out to professionals in your industry or sector, and ask them to read your resume and offer suggestions. Talk to your colleagues and those in higher positions. And don’t be shy! After all, you won’t be hiring yourself.

    As it stands now, I have had my resume go through most of my friends in PR. I’ve sent my resume to former managers and directors, looking for their feedback. My parents have helped me by sending my resume to their friends, soliciting their feedback as well. I consider every suggestion made, and my resume is richer for having done so.

  • Interview, Informationally
    Ah yes, the wily, elusive, and intimidating informational interview. In reality, none of those three adjectives should apply. Informationals are pretty easy to come by and usually quite relaxed and informal. While I wasn’t completely sold on the concept when I first began making the rounds, I quickly warmed to the idea.

    Whenever an organization I contacted would come back to me saying no positions are available, I’d ask to meet with someone in their Communications department, regardless. It reflects a genuine interest and enthusiasm on my part, but it’s also a strategic way of learning about the inner-workings of a company. There’s only so much you can glean from websites and news releases.

    The informational interview is also a no-pressure chance to ask questions you might not ask in a formal job interview: Curious about the salary expectations for someone with your experience? Ask away. Ever wondered what qualifications are truly needed for the positions you seek? Ask away. Want to know how the VP of Communications for SomeCompany Ltd got the position? Where they went to school? What they suggest you learn to get ahead? ASK!

  • Network Network Network. And then Network some more.
    This goes hand-in-hand with the first two points. When I send out a resume for someone to have a look at, I know they’ll offer some useful suggestions. I also know that it’s one more person who will have read my resume, seen my qualifications, and learned about my professional career to that point. That’s one more person who may be able to throw my name out somewhere.

    The same idea applies to everyone I meet for informationals, even more so. Now there’s someone who is not only aware of who I am and what I’ve accomplished, but they have spent some time talking to me, getting to know me, and learning how I think and act. This is – in fact – even more useful as it’s safe to assume an informational interview takes place with someone within your desired industry. That’s another person who can throw your name out to potential employers, with the added bonus of being able to vouch for your character as well. Furthermore, should a position ever open in that person’s organization, a good impression will keep you at the top of their pile.

    Besides that, I follow fellow PR folk on Twitter and LinkedIn, so I know who is doing what. Attending conferences and talks is a great way to meet people in your industry. Go for drinks with a friend and their coworkers. You never know who or what will lead where.

  • Here, Take My Card.
    Simple and cheap. Make yourself a business card. I found out very quickly after having lost my job that networking is difficult without a business card.

    A business card is a classic reminder of who you are and what you do, and it fits in everyone’s front pocket. If you’re unemployed, all you need is your name and contact info, with a brief line about what you do. For example, on my card there is contact information broken up by a single line reading: Communications. Public Relations. Branding. Writing. Editing. Who I am, what I do, where to reach me.

  • Freelance Is Not A Four-Letter Word
    Stay sharp by offering your skills to others. This is not about the money, but about staying in the loop. Offer your services to a friend’s company, or a non-profit organization, or even your dad’s repair shop. Freelancing between jobs can be fun, keeps you on your toes and allows to dabble in a variety of areas.

While being unemployed is never fun, there are ways to use that time to your professional advantage. I’ve been doing my best to stay busy and stay relevant, and I’m pretty happy with the results so far. While not working full-time at the moment, I have a few things on the go and am always looking at new opportunities. Meanwhile, I’ve met with everyone from coordinators and managers, to VPs and Presidents. I’ve had my resume edited by people whom I’d only ever seen on the news. Now they know my first name, where I went to school and what I’m capable of on the job.

Being unemployed hasn’t been the greatest thing to happen to me, but it’s certainly far from the worst. Best of luck to all!

PS
As of this writing, for #HAPPOTO, I remain unemployed but open to all opportunities.